Knights to play for CCS title

SAN JOSE — The Hillsdale softball team has had its struggles this season, but none of that matters now as the Knights find themselves in the Central Coast Section Division II championship game for the first time since 1991 after beating seventh-seeded Saratoga 3-1 in the semifinals at San Jose PAL Stadium Tuesday afternoon.

The two teams were locked in a scoreless battle until third-seeded Hillsdale (19-11) broke through with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth. The Knights tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth.

Saratoga (19-6) scratched out a run against Hillsdale pitcher Kealani Kaufusi in the top of the seventh as she tossed a complete game, five hitter. She extinguished the Falcons’ rally, however, when right fielder Bailey McDonough recorded her second assist of the game by throwing out a runner at first, stranding a pair of Saratoga base runners.

“Sometimes you win ugly,” said Hillsdale coach Randy Metheany. “(But) it doesn’t matter at this point of the season, as long as you win.”

Hillsdale will face either No. 5 Notre Dame-Belmont or No. 1 Notre Dame-Salinas in the championship game Saturday at PAL Stadium at a time be determined. The Tigers and Spirit will face off in the other Division II semifinal game tonight.

The Hillsdale offense was kind of a slow build. The Knights looked anxious in their first at-bat, with the first two batters in the order jumping on the first pitch for outs. In the second inning, Gabby Mataele got the Knights’ first hit.

It appeared the Knights were going to break the ice in the third when Ashleigh Wong led off with a double to the right-center field gap. Following a Karinna Chong sacrifice bunt, Bridget Nasir walked and after a popout, Kaufusi walked to load the bases.

The Knights could not capitalize, however, as a grounder to shortstop ended the threat.

“We lost a little bit of (momentum) with the bases loaded,” Metheany said. “I think we were trying so hard to get that big hit. I brought the girls up and I just told them to focus and try to hit the ball hard. I didn’t even care where it went. It worked over those last three innings.”

A base-running gaffe snuffed a potential fourth-inning rally for Hillsdale, but the Knights finally broke through in the fifth. With one out, Chong reached on an infield single and stole second. Nasir followed with a single, with Chong stopping at third. Nasir then stole second to put two runners in scoring position with McDonough at the plate. On the next pitch, McDonough lofted the ball to shallow center field where the Saratoga centerfielder made a thigh-high catch. Chong tagged and easily scored when the throw sailed high over the catcher’s head. As the Falcons scrambled to get ahold of the loose ball, Nasir came home to make it 2-0.

The Knights tacked on another run in the sixth to give Kaufusi a little breathing room. With one out and Mataele on first via a fielder’s choice, Haley Koga came up and blasted an RBI triple to the fence in right-center field with Mataele scoring without a throw.

Saratoga had its chances against Kaufusi, but could only capitalize in the seventh. Every time the Falcons threatened, the Knights got out of the jam. McDonough, playing in right field, had a busy day with a number of balls hit to her, but she made the play more often than not. Add in her sacrifice fly and McDonough had a strong performance, including a pair of assists — one in the third and on the final out of the game.

“Bailey did a great job,” Metheany said.

Bella Zalba also had a game-defining catch. In the fifth, with two outs and runners on first and second, Saratoga’s Erin Lee bid for a hit into the right-center field gap died in the glove of Zalba, who came streaking across from her center field position to make a thigh-high catch to end the inning.

Despite putting together a solid effort, Metheany knows it will take more to beat either of the Notre Dame schools in the championship game.

“We got to play better than [Tuesday],” Metheany said.

 

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